Growing Up Gaming

A reflection on the unexpected impact of gaming 

I feel like I am in such a strange place in my life. Growing up, the “thing” that interested me was the “thing” that most others shunned or made fun of. Now the “thing” has grown into a huge industry that many around the world utilize to engage and aid students in academic success. 

I grew up a “gamer.” 

“Gamer” in this sense is not what is commonly thought of today with huge esports conventions and competitions streamed to millions of people over the entire planet. Beginning with the Atari 2600, I grew up right alongside consoles. In future writings of this blog, I will discuss the multiple consoles and how I evolved with them, but for now I want to focus on my early life in gaming and how gaming impacted me as I grew up. 

I grew up in a small town. A trailer park to be exact. We had well water that we could not drink, the roads were always muddy, we had to walk a bit to get to the bus stop. My parents both worked, so I generally got myself ready to go to school each morning, never forgetting to put my key around my neck, or else I would be locked out of the house when I returned home. 

Oh, the bus ride. This is where my bullying began and ended each day. Our neighborhood was “lucky” enough to be the last group picked up before heading off to school. Unfortunately for us, all the kids who lived in the $300,000 houses got picked up first. Fighting for a seat, being called “smelly,” “poor,” “trailer trash,” and my personal favorite, “fat,” occurred daily. It turns out that the only thing worse than being the “poor” kid, was being the “poor, fat” kid. I wish I could say things got better when I got to school, but they didn’t. Sitting alone at the lunch table was a common occurrence. If kids did sit with me, it was to make fun of me. My lunchbox was old, my clothes were terrible, I heard it all. After going through all of this joy, daily, I still had the bus ride home to look forward to! 

Fortunately, my parents were able to save up enough money to buy that Atari 2600 for me for Christmas one year. I think my dad actually bought it for himself, but he let me play it. After he figured out that he could never beat me at Frogger, he stopped playing for the most part. When I would save enough money for a new game, he would join in for a few sessions, but he would quickly tire of it and let me have it all to myself. 

My mom was happy for me to have the distraction of gaming. It kept me busy, and she would often sit and watch until she fell asleep at 7 pm. Mom got up at 4:30 am, so by 7 pm she was done for the day.

As you can tell, I spent a lot of my days alone. My parents were busy. I was an only child. The kids bullied me. And, the one thing I was really good at, gaming, was never accepted by my teachers as a skill or something that would ever benefit me. That Atari 2600 kept me going. I could be successful inside that video game system. Getting to the next level kept me coming back and probably saved my life. On more than one occasion, I contemplated suicide.  I even got to the point of planning out how I would do it. Had it not been for the next level, Boss Encounter, or objective to complete, I am confident I would not be here.

I will write more about my school experiences in future posts, but I want teachers, administrators, and parents to understand that gaming might be the “thing” that is keeping YOUR student or child going. If that is their thing, embrace it. Play with them, even if you are a “noob.” Your student or child may say they don’t want you to play, but I promise that once you sit down with them, they will ask you to come back. #GrowingUpGaming

About the Author

Dr. Michael Russell entered the field of education as a social studies teacher at Complete High School Maize in 2014. Michael has been a speaker at the 2019 ISTE Conference, the 2018 Future of Education Technology Conference, Global Esports Clinic, and the Mid-America Association for Computers in Education Conference. 

Dr. Russell is the Vice-President of Curriculum and Esports Integration at High School Esports League, working to develop curriculum for educators around the world.